A roundup of the action from rowing’s big weekend of head racing

Thousands of rowers took part in four days of adrenaline-fuelled racing on the Tideway and Dorney Lake in four of the biggest events on the rowing calendar

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Crews at the 2018 Schools Head (c) BigBlade

Read on for a short review of the racing highlights from all four events, held from 10-13 March. Reporting by Nick Hartland and Tom Morgan.

The Women’s Eights Head of the River, 10 March

Boats joined votes as a cause for celebration as the Women Eights Head of the River beat the Head of the River entry for the first time ever – 319 to 313 entries.

With the men’s race 24 hours later, the back-to-back events saw nearly 6,000 rowers descend on the Tideway, with club rowers Emily Ashford and Emily Ford partnering Rio medallist Karen Bennett and five other GB rowers to help Leander defend the women’s headship in style.

Starting first ahead of Cambridge University, they steadily pulled clear to win by 15.5 seconds in 18.34.7, the Light Blues taking the University pennant in second for the fourth straight year.

“It was a real buzz starting first with lots of GB athletes and spectacular to get my first Women’s Head of the River win,” said Leander cox Morgan Baynham-Williams.

“Cambridge started close, but we moved on them to Barnes, motored onto Hammersmith and stepped it up to the finish.”

Olympic stars Zoe Lee and Mel Wilson and their Imperial crew in 19.01.7 pipped Club winners Molesey to fourth by 1.5 seconds, with UL’s GB under-23s just 2.2 seconds back in fifth.

It was a real buzz starting first with lots of GB athletes and spectacular to get my first Women’s Head of the River win

Also making a splash was Beijing 2008 cycling champion Nicole Cooke, who swapped pedals for puddles to help Lea place 41st.

Expect Cambridge, Imperial and UL to battle it out at BUCS, while Molesey will surely make a splash at Henley Women’s Regatta.

Head of the River, 11 March

The Tideway became the Tied-way, as Oxford Brookes and Leander fought out the first Head of the River dead-heat in 91 years.

Brookes starting first had double world gold medallist Mat Tarrant at four, while Leander’s GB-stacked boat in hot pursuit included Olympic champion Tom Ransley.

The Pink Palace took 1.7 seconds back by Barnes, before Brookes’ relentless mid-course rhythm kicked in for a 1.4 seconds lead at Hammersmith. Leander surged again, but Brookes’ grandstand finish saw officials finally declare it honours even for the Fairbairn Trophy in 17:27.7.

Leander cox Henry Fieldman said: “We began to close but they seemed to handle the headwind around Hammersmith better. After Harrods we closed again to about two lengths but Brookes put in a devastating build for the line, so massive congratulations to them.”

To tie with effectively a GB squad boat, to get three eights in the top five, five in the top 20, it’s massive

Matt Aldridge, whose Brookes boat included 18-year-old Matt Rowe, said: “We had the confidence to move on through the middle and the great work there achieved the result, with our sprint finish at 40+ seeing us home.

“To tie with effectively a GB squad boat, to get three eights in the top five, five in the top 20, it’s massive, and sets us up to go to America in May to race Washington for the Windermere Cup.”

Brookes’ B were third (17.44.7) and Leander C fourth (17.51.9), with Brookes C in fifth taking the University pennant (17.55.9), UL A sixth (17.57.8) and Thames A seventh (18.12.6).

Leander’s top boat will target World Cup and Championship seats, while Brookes will go for back-to-back Ladies/Temple Cup wins at Henley Royal, though UL may have something to say about the latter.

Schools Head of the River, 12 March, and the Oarsport Junior Sculling Head, 13 March

Henley Rowing Club were once again at the front of an ever-growing pack, as thousands of junior rowers descended on Putney and Dorney Lake across two days of competition for the Schools’ Head of the River and Oarsport Junior Sculling Head (Scullery).

Showing impressive form, Henley RC secured the Victor Ludorum at the Scullery which included wins in the quad categories at WJ18, WJ17, WJ16 and WJ15 level. On the Tideway, they wrestled the Championship Eight title from Headington’s grasp, also breaking the record by 10 seconds in a time of 18:18.0.

“It was good to see everyone get the results they deserved,” said Leon Redman, head coach of the Henley girls’ squad. “From the coach’s perspective, the squad conducted themselves well and raced with maturity and determination”.

On the men’s side, hotly tipped St Paul’s School also set a record in winning Championship Eights. The boys from Hammersmith were imperious in victory, defeating Shiplake and Eton by nearly 20 seconds and covering the course in 16 minutes and 40 seconds.

Henley Rowing Club were once again at the front of an ever-growing pack, as thousands of junior rowers descended on Putney and Dorney Lake

Bobby Thatcher, Director of Rowing at St Paul’s, said: “The boys were pretty reserved to Hammersmith, focusing on distance per stroke and creating a rhythm. After the bridge, they knew they had the platform to really start turning the screw.”

Eton’s second eight produced a brilliant row to finish fourth overall, winning their category by seven seconds. Bedford School were winners of First Eights, while Enniskillen Royal BC, Ireland finished first in the female equivalent.

Maidenhead produced two splendid rows to win the J18 quads event at both events, beating the Windsor Boys’ School and Leander Club. Henley RC were J16 quad victors on the Tideway, before Claires Court School stole their thunder with a strong showing at the Scullery.

 

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